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Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy

Interesting attempt at a political comedy from a rarely seen perspective.

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Christine Lahti and Renata Friedman in a scene from Sarah Gancher’s “Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy” at the Vineyard Theatre (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Sarah Gancher’s Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy is seemingly torn from the headlines – if this were the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election which pitted Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. In 2024, it seems rather past its due date. Although it calls itself a comedy, it is not very funny but rather outrageous in its depicting of Russian misinformation intended for the American internet to influence the voters to cast their ballot for Trump rather than Clinton. What Gancher has written cannot make up its mind whether it is a comedy, satire, parody, drama or tragedy or a combination of all the above, which is problematic.

Under Darko Tresnjak’s direction, don’t blame the hard working cast led by film and stage star Christine Lahti, all of whom throw themselves into their offbeat roles with abandon. Set at St. Petersburg’s Internet Research Agency (a real place from 2013 – 2023) whose job was to manipulate the media to advance the Russian agenda at home and abroad, the office we see is staffed by five very different people: Egor (Haskell King), a workaholic loner who is most interested in coming in first in number of postings and winning the microwave oven prize and who writes in the persona of an African American for a specific audience; Steve (John Lavelle), a big and loud guy, an extroverted manipulator who went to junior college in America and can talk a blue streak, not unwilling to be inappropriate or cause trouble between his fellow workers.

Renata Friedman and Hadi Tabbal in a scene from Sarah Gancher’s “Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy” at the Vineyard Theatre (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Nikolai (Hadi Tabbal) is an introverted supervisor and more interested in his unfinished screenplay than his job that he obtained through his wife’s oligarch father. Masha (Renata Friedman), the new girl is a former journalist with integrity who sees this as a stopgap as she planning on moving to London in the new year; and Ljuba (Lahti) is the older boss and an iron lady, cool as ice, tough as nails, but lonely and having a vulnerable side.

The job of these internet trolls is to place phony tweets and fake news regarding Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party as fast as they can but as believably as they can based on protocols they have been given, as well as in correct American grammar. Various demographics have been targeted where they can do the most damage. In the course of the play’s four parts, two of the characters begin an affair, two of them make a pact made in hell, one of them is fired, and several successful betrayals are plotted. The play goes through the celebration after Trump wins the American election on November 9, 2016.

Haskell King and John Lavelle in a scene from Sarah Gancher’s “Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy” at the Vineyard Theatre (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

The play makes use of actual Russian tweets sent out during the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Election. It also makes use of a great deal of jargon and buzz words which may not be known to all theatergoers: Bernie Bros., chemtrails, Turing Test, FSB, the successor to the KGB, The Valley Bugle, DPR, the Maidan, cosplay, 4chan, VPN, BMI, Ethereum, Dickbit, acid washed, etc. While not strictly necessary to know, it does inhibit your understanding if you are unfamiliar with these terms, while at the same time making it seem authentic office jargon.

The characters are all rather unpleasant – some more so that others – in their outrageous behavior, but much of what happens is factual though the people involved are all invented. Lahti is dynamic as the boss behind the office, while Tabbal’s Nikolai is necessarily weak and retiring. The spiteful rivalry between King’s Egor and Lavelle’s Steve fuels much of the play. Friedman’s Masha starts mildly but becomes a strong force before we reach Election Day.

Hadi Tabbal and Renata Friedman in a scene from Sarah Gancher’s “Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy” at the Vineyard Theatre (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Alexander Dodge’s all-white set works well for both the office and later the karaoke bar where the workers hang out. The costumes by Linda Cho define the characters from Lahti’s suits and sweater sets to Lavelle’s boots, cargo shorts and slogan t-shirts. Marcus Doshi’s extremely bright lighting design is typical of office settings but also includes the blue light from the hall which suggests that they all being watched all the time. Jared Mezzocchi’s video and projection design often cleverly shows news feeds the team is following.

Sarah Gancher’s Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy is an interesting attempt at a political comedy from a rarely seen perspective. Unfortunately, Darko Tresnjak’s direction is unable to rein in the many changes of tone and style. The cast is excellent at what they are asked to do but you may not find yourself caring about any of these people. However, the nearly frenetic pace doesn’t give you much time to notice until the play is over.

Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy (extended through March 3, 2024)

The Vineyard Theatre in association with Geva Theatre Center

The Vineyard Theatre, 106 E. 15th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-353-0303 or visit http://www.vineyardtheatre.org

Running time: one hour and 50 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (972 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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